A Poem For Sunday


“The Life of Man” by G.G.Belli (1791-1863):

Nine months in the stench: and then in swaddling bound.
Among the kisses, the milksops, and the bawling;
Then strapped into a basket, hauled around
With a stiff neck brace to keep the head from falling.

Then there begin the torments of the school,
The ABCs, the cold, the cane’s hard knocks,
Measles, the potty seat, the squeezed-out stool,
A touch of scarlet fever, chickenpox.

Then hunger comes, and weariness, a trade,
The rent, the jailhouse, and the government,
The hospitals, the debts, the getting laid;

The scorching summer and the winter’s snow . . .
Then, blessed be God’s name, when life is spent,
Comes death to finish it with hell below.

(Translated, from the Romanesco dialect, by Charles Martin. From Poets Translate Poets: A Hudson Review Anthology, edited by Paula Deitz, with an introduction by Mark Jarman. © 2013 by Syracuse University. Reprinted by permission of Syracuse University Press. Image: Still-Life with a Skull by Philippe de Champaigne, 1671, via Wikimedia Commons)